I really enjoy trying perfume from smaller perfume houses. Sonoma Scent Studio is a favorite, their Velvet Rose being perhaps the most perfect rose perfume of all time (to my nose anyway). So when I heard of Olympic Orchids, located a few miles from me in Lynwood Washington, I had to grab some samples. Many of their fragrances are inspired by their surroundings. They riff on the orchids that grow wild here, the olympic rain forest, and Puget Sound. There’s even a scent modeled after a Seattle coffee shop (of which we do indeed have many.)
This part of the world is unique and beautiful, and it smells just as unique and beautiful, so I was very curious to see how any perfume company might try to capture that scent, and how well they’d succeed. My samples came packaged in individual baggies with the scent labeled on the bag. A nice surprise in presentation that I appreciated. It certainly makes it easier to find the sample you’re looking for quickly and easily among my huge bag of tiny vials mostly labeled with tiny little labels.
I chose a grab bag, a few florals (modeled after the orchids that bloom wild here), a few specifically Pacific North West options, and then a couple gourmands that caught my eye. Let’s see how they fared, shall week?
Kingston Ferry. The Kingston Ferry runs from between Kingston, on the Olympic Peninsula and Edmunds, a small once sleepy hamlet just North of Seattle. It is perhaps the most popular way of getting to great tourist destinations like Port Townsend from Seattle proper and it’s the ferry my husband and I use the most often. When the Seattle area is sweltering in the summer the Kingston Ferry will quickly get you onto the peninsula where temperatures drop easily ten to fifteen degrees and tempers cool even more. The official description from Olympic Orchid’s website describes this scent this way: “Tincture of Pacific Northwest seaweed contributes a subtle, green ocean fragrance.”
I dabbed on my sample, gave my wrist a wave to let the alcohol evaporate a bit and took a sniff. My first reaction was a startled cough at the overwhelming scent of the Sound, salt, and seaweed, and (unfortunately) rotting shellfish below the dock where seagulls dropped their finds onto the rocks to break them open for a feast. It indeed smelled like the ferry dock, I could nearly hear the gulls. The initial scent is as bright and sharp as the sunlight sparkling off the waves. It attracts and repulses at the same time. I found myself sniffing my wrist over and over again, the scent there so strange and intriguing and utterly different than any other perfume I’d ever tried. Eventually Kingston Ferry settles down, the rotting fish fades away and you are left with a salty and warm scent that reminds me of sun dried driftwood on the beach. This perfume isn’t for everyone, but in the grey dreary PNW winter we are having it was a great deal of fun to smell like the summer shore.
Olympic Rainforest. I’m not sure how many people outside of the Pacific Northwest realize that we have a rainforest right here in our midst. You don’t have to go somewhere tropical or far away, just a few hours drive from downtown Seattle and you’re deep in a dripping primordial rainforest. Our favorite is the Hoh National Forest which is filled with miles of great hiking trails for all levels. The Hoh sits square between the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic mountains. It’s a place of deep quiet moss under foot, yards of moss growing on every inch of the trees, great quiet giants, and cloud wreathed mountains. It is unearthly quiet, peaceful. Olympic Orchids describes this scent as “cedar leaves, green sword ferns, rhododendron, forest mushrooms, wildflowers from the clearings, oakmoss, and Port Orford Cedar wood “ On me it started out a bit salty and very woody. Over the course of the day the dry down slowly revealed itself in a lovely but odd scent that my husband and I took turns sniffing on my wrist over our Thai lunch until finally his eyes lit up and he said he thought it was exactly what the forest would smell like in summer when the rains had gone for a few days, the sun was out and the moss was drying and steaming on the trees. This is a much more accessible fragrance than Kingston Ferry. I really enjoyed it, but I am a great fan of oaks notes in my perfumes and the link with one of our favorite hiking locations doesn’t hurt!
Black Bird. Black Bird is juicy, fruity and bright. I did indeed smell the blackberry note, an invasive, if delicious species that has overtaken whole hillsides around the Seattle area. The sweet is cut a little by something that smells dry, and warm. Official notes are Himalayan blackberry fruit, dry grass and leaves, elemi, cedar wood and resin, amber, fir balsam absolute, musk. For me this scent is a little too sweet, but I could see it being lovely for a hot summer day.
California Chocolate. I have never understood why more perfume houses don’t use chocolate as a note, done well it’s utterly delicious and can add a dark depth to a perfume. Such is the case with California chocolate that has sparkling orange blossom above a boozy vanilla middle and a warm dark chocolate base that keeps the whole thing from being too sweet and cloying. It’s a delicious gourmand scent that wraps you up in coziness. It might be too dark for summer, but it certainly adds some bright cheer on a chilly spring day! Official notes: wild orange, grapefruit, yuzu, white cognac, neroli, dark chocolate, patchouli, musk, and Bourbon vanilla. ‘
Golden Cattleya. Named after local orchids (did you know Washington has native orchids?) Golden Cattleya on my skin turned buttery, warm, golden and floral. It was just plain lovely, enjoyable and easy to wear. I could see myself wearing this any season and suspect it will adapt a bit to various temperatures. Officially it is described as “The scent of this orchid is pure gold – narcissus, daffodil, orange fruit, orange blossoms, honey, pollen, and cream soda combine with amber-tinged resins and musks to create a warm and long-lasting aura like late afternoon sunshine.” And while I don’t in fact detect all those notes, and you may not either, it’s a rich and complex enough fragrance to be a good floral for a grown up whose gone beyond the super sweet, super simple florals of her youth.
White Cattleya. Sadly this one just didn’t work for me. It started green and bright, which is good but before long all I smelled was a lemon scent that reminded me of nothing so much as cleaning products. I was very much hoping for a bright, green summer floral. For you it may be just that, on my skin this one is a pass! Official notes Notes: Citron, lemon, neroli, jasmine, heliotrope, orchid accord, light vanilla and musks.
Cafe V. Finally we have Cave V, which is a riff on the famous coffee shops that dot Seattle. It’s official notes list coffee, dark cacao, vanilla, cream, cardamom, leather, dark woods, musk. And logic says based on that list, I should love this. But I don’t. To me the wood is too musty, like an old shed that’s been left to mould in our wet climate, on my skin there is no coffee or gourmand scent at all. Instead I smell only something sharp and almost synthetic above the damp rotting wood. Normally dark, woody perfumes are my muse but this one failed to work with my body chemistry. Sad.
My sample pack from Olympic Orchids was an incredibly fun romp through my home city. From our beautiful natural settings to the dark little shops in cramped and congested streets this line really does encompass Seattle for me. It was a delightful experience and I may very well buy a bottle of one or two of these scents in the future. Now my question is, have you tried any of these? What was your reaction?